The classic question when it comes to making tamales is “Do you have a recipe?” Even though I am sharing my personal recipe here, I have to say that making tamales is like riding a bike for the first time. It’s scary, but after a huge leap of faith and a lot of practice, you will be a pro.
How I make Tamales
I learned how to make tamales by teaching myself. I read a few recipes, asked a lot of questions, and had some years where I couldn’t believe how things went so incredibly wrong in terms of the quantities I prepared. In fact, even this year, I waay over purchased meat. But no matter: the excess will be made into enchiladas, or worked into some other holiday feast when the boys come home. Nothing will go to waste.
The trickiest part will be how to assemble the masa, which is a tactile skill that I explain in another recipe. Small mom and pop shops that make fresh nixtamal are few and far between anymore, even here on the Mexican border. I have been buying fresh masa at the grocery store now. It has a bit of preservatives added to it so it doesn’t ferment the way tortilla shop masa would. The quality of fresh masa from the supermarket is very good.
Use the Best Ingredients for Making Tamales
Farm raised pork is always my choice, but again, if you can’t find it, use the best quality pork you can find. You can try differect meat combinations, but keep the quantities close to what I have listed below.
So, If you are wondering why there are no precise recipes for making tamales, it has to do with the amount of liquids that you add to your ground chiles, or your stewed meat fillings, or even your masa. You may even run out of husks, as the husks can run in different sizes. If you have other people helping you, they may make their tamales in different sizes that yours…so many variables to account for.
But as a word of encouragement, I never made a batch that were inedible. Tamales are very forgiving, and if something looks or feels wrong, you can usually fix it…a little dry masa can absorb a prepared masa that has too much liquid and is too thin; a bit more chile puree can season a meat filling that is too dry; Less salt in your filling can balance out too much salt in the masa, etc. The only way you can ruin tamales is if you allow your steamer to run out of water when you are steam cooking the tamales. Just keep an eye on that, and you should be fine.
Feel free to message me for pointers. Good luck!
Pork Filling: 4 – 5 lbs pork picnic shoulder 2-2.5 kg 1 onion 2 cloves garlic 2 bay leaves Salt to taste Seasoning: 1 lb. chile ancho – 500 gr 1 cup pork broth – 240ml (reserved from boiling pork) 7 cloves garlic, finely minced 1 lb. pork lard 500 gr 1 tsp. ground black pepper – 4gr (or to taste) 2 tbls. salt- 6gr (or to taste) 17 lbs of prepared masa (see recipe here) 12 oz dried corn shucks 340 gr (these must be soaked in water 1 – 2 hours before use)
To prepare the pork: Cut the meat of the pork shoulder into smaller pieces, in order to reduce cooking time. Place all of the meat and any bones into an 8 qt. stock pot. Cover with water, and add the onion, garlic, bay leaves and salt, and bring to a boil. When it is well cooked (about 45 minutes of cooking time), remove the meat from the broth. Reserve the broth for later use. Remove any meat from the bones, and discard the bones. Mince the cooked pork, chopping by hand, or using a meat grinder. A 5 lb pork shoulder should yield about 8 cups of chopped meat. To prepare the seasoning for the meat filling: Fill a 6 qt stock pot half way full with water. Bring the water to a boil and add the chiles. Boil the chiles until tender, about 15 minutes. Remove and discard the stems, and add the chiles to the container of a blender. Add 1 cup of the pork broth and garlic, and puree well (add more broth if necessary to facilitate blending.) Strain puree through a wire strainer to extract any seeds, and discard the seeds. In a skillet, heat ½ lb of pork lard over low heat. When melted, add the garlic, pepper, and salt, and sauté for 10 seconds. Add the puree, and sauté for 2 minutes. Add the chopped pork, combining well. Adjust the seasonings as desired. Simmer for 10 minutes, and then remove from heat. Set aside. (You may elect to prepare the meat a day in advance. Once cooled, you can also freeze the meat for a later tamal making date.) Prepare the masa as directed in the following recipe. To assemble the tamales: Dry off some of the corn shucks, and place a few within reach. To make a proper tamal, the corn shuck bottom edge should be around 6 inches (15cm) wide. Discard those that are too narrow, and tear bits off of the ones that are too wide. Take a corn shuck, and spread the bottom 2/3 of the leaf with 2-3 tablespoons of masa. Leave a 1-½ inches wide area along one edge free of masa. Spread the masa thinly. Place line of about 2 tablespoons of the filling, following the direction of the corn shuck veins, on the spread masa, towards the center of the prepared shuck. Fold the edge of the prepared shuck over the filling, and then roll up towards the edge of the shuck with no masa. Fold down the top part of the shuck. Continue until all the tamales have been formed. You will need a two piece steamer pot with a lid in order to cook your tamales. Place tamales in the basket of the steamer. Boil water in the bottom of the steamer. As a top layer, cover the tamales with extra corn shucks, then with a sheet of aluminum foil. Secure the lid of the steamer, using foil around the edges of the lid to prevent the escape of steam. Place the steamer over the boiling water. Steam the tamales for about 25 – 40 minutes, until the masa is firm and no longer appears opaque.
For spreading masa on the husks, I use a masa spreader, which you can purchase here